Health officials have given White Rock beach the all-clear for swimming.
Rob Thompson, the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations confirmed Wednesday afternoon that two consecutive tests of Semiahmoo Bay have shown the water is safe.
The beach was closed Sunday after a blocked sewer main on West Beach overflowed into a storm-water system, dumping an estimated 60,000 gallons of food waste and sewage onto the beach and into the water.
In a verbal report to council Monday night, Thompson explained that the problem occurred at a connection between two manholes – one that connects to the sanitary system and one to the storm system – at Vidal Street and Marine Drive.
That connection – which Thompson said staff was unaware of – was severed Wednesday morning.
Thompson said the blockage buildup – which appeared to involve food waste and grease – occurred sometime within the last three weeks, after the main was last flushed.
Asked by Coun. Doug McLean if Marine Drive restaurants were to blame, Thompson said everyone in that area could have contributed to the problem.
McLean said a large amount of material had to have been put in the system in order to cause a blockage just three weeks after the main was flushed.
“I can’t imagine residents doing that,” he said. “The source of this is likely our businesses along the waterfront.”
Thompson noted that restaurants are required at the licensing phase to have oil and fat separators, but that the city does not do follow-up inspections.
According to Coun. Alan Campbell, “this should’ve been a red light to us a long time ago.”
“I think we should seriously be getting together with restaurants… and make sure they have some sort of oil separator,” he said. “This could’ve happened at 11 p.m. Sunday night, and that could’ve been disastrous, going all night.
“I think this is an eye-opener to all of us.”
Thompson said city staff will be visiting restaurants and following up with a letter regarding the need to use the separators.
Coun. Lynne Sinclair said changes to rules and regulations about separators in restaurants should be explored.
“I think we need a much more thorough discussion of the inspections. This is very serious.”
Regarding the first test Fraser Health conducted Monday, Coun. Grant Meyer said it is “unacceptable” that the health authority wouldn’t come out on Sunday, when the incident occurred.
In response to a question from McLean regarding potential environmental impacts, Thompson said the city hasn’t visited that area yet. However, fisheries south of the border were closed due to concern over the discharge, he noted.
Council asked staff to bring back a written report on the overall situation by Sept. 30, and include a review of the city’s business licence processes to ensure the installation of fat separators is required.
Council also requested staff write a letter to Fraser Health discussing procedures for weekend calls.
Thompson said Wednesday connections between the sanitary sewer and the storm system were installed some 20 years ago, and were originally intended to reduce coliform intrusions into the bay from storm water by dumping it into the sewer system.
“It was intended as a one-way diversion, but it appears (in the latest incident) to have worked as a two-way diversion,” he said.
Most such connecting pipes were closed off some 15 years ago, Thompson said, noting staff were relying on “corporate memory” of past decisions.
He said it is unlikely there are any more unidentified connections, “although I can’t say there are definitely not.”
– with files from Hannah Sutherland